I Started A Business With A Baby – Karen Sherr of Musical Minis

Today Karen Sherr of Musical Minis (music groups for babies and toddlers) tells us how she started her business. Karen started Musical Minis when her son Matthew was 1 year old – Matthew is now 21 and has a brother Alexander age 19 and sister Emily,16. She also shares some of her experience of franchising…

What inspired you to set up Musical Minis?

I took Matthew to an exercise group where they sang a song at the beginning and the end of each session. This was Matthews’ favourite part. I tried to find a local music group that I could take him to but with no luck. The few I did find were very musical and very strict – the parents had to ensure their children listened to a mixture of music for ½ hour each day. I was looking for a ‘fun’ music group that would not put children off music but would not necessarily teach them rhythm and beat etc.

When Matthew was one year old, I was beginning to miss being surrounded by a ward full of children and being at home with just one. This mixed in with my inability to find a suitable music group to attend (and knowing some of my friends were also interested in finding a music group) led to the launch of Musical Minis.

What is your background?

After school, I did a psychology degree at Warwick University. Then I was employed as a Play Specialist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, on the cardiac unit. Being a Play Specialist involved caring for the emotional, not medical, care of the children – telling them about their operations, why it was necessary, what would happen to them and also emotionally supporting the child’s parents and siblings. I had intended to return to Great Ormond Street after having Matthew but I didn’t like the idea of being with other peoples children whilst leaving my own. Also now being a Mum, I’m not sure I would have coped supporting parents of very ill children.

How did you go about setting the company up?

Musical Minis was based on what I wanted as a Mum for my child. At first, it was a group I could attend with Matthew. A few of my friends came with their children. I devised the programme, bought the equipment, hired the hall, took out insurance etc. We had one session (3/4 hour) a week. Patricia Elson, a leader at the exercise group I took Matthew to, came on board as my partner – if she took the class, Matthew and I could fully benefit from participating in the class.

When Musical Minis was established, I had no idea that so many parents would wish their children to join. It soon became apparent that we had a proper business.

How did you finance the initial company?

We financed it ourselves out of our savings. We ploughed all the money we made from the classes back into the business for a number of years.

Did you do all the work yourself?

Locally the business took off very quickly. The number of children attending grew rapidly. Our first franchise was in September 1997. This was 7 years after we set up locally. The delay was due to the fact that we wanted to set up everything legally before we offered the franchise for sale. We had to register our trademark – we became embroiled in a dispute which we won, but the process took a long time. Our music needed to be cleared – we hired a recording studio with a male and female singer, so we own the recordings. We then had to create the lesson tapes, apply for a licence to the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS), duplicate the tapes and pay the required Royalties.

We wanted to make sure everything was correct before setting up franchises. We liaised with lawyers to create a franchise agreement, wrote Operating and Training Manuals which we made sure could be understood and easily used. We ran (and still do) our own sessions so any problem or guidance our franchisees have or need we can offer first hand experience.

How did you manage in terms of childcare in the beginning?

The nature of Musical Minis has allowed me to take the children with me, so childcare wasn’t an issue. Matthew loved attending Musical Minis. The preparation before each class was something he could be part of and it just became a normal part of his life. As the weeks went on, we ran more sessions in more venues and he could always come along and be part of it.

After a few months I became pregnant. I worked throughout my pregnancy but took on an additional member of staff so I could have a few weeks off after the baby was born. Alex and Emily both were born into a life involving Musical Minis. The children did not see me as a businesswoman as to them, I was doing the same as all other Mums. As they have got older they realised this wasn’t the case.

You offer Musical Minis as a franchise opportunity for other Mums – was that always the long-term aim of the business? How did you know it was time to franchise?

No. It was originally started as a small local group where I could take Matthew. As the demand became apparent the business grew. We started to consider franchising when we were approached by mums who attended our classes and then moved out of the area.

How did you go about setting up all the legal/documentation side of the franchise?

The Franchise Agreement was written by a law firm whilst we used a specialist trade mark company to register the name and logo of Musical Minis. We were lucky enough to be introduced to a music publisher who helped us with matters of music clearance, My husband Rob acted as our representative on these matters. He also wrote the Operating Manual whilst myself and Pat Elson wrote the Training Manual with the support of Pat’s husband Roy who is a personnel specialist.

Did you have legal/professional help?

We continue to use professional help as required. Unfortunately we have had to call on lawyers to help with trade mark infringement and other legal disputes. Our accountants have also been helpful, providing advice as we have grown.

What has been the best bit of free PR/Marketing you've had?

One of our franchisees had an article printed about her in Red magazine.

What has been the biggest hurdle you've had to overcome with the business?

At first the financial outlay and time involved seemed as though possibly we had taken on too much. Now, 20 years on, we are starting to be able to take money out of the business and not have to reinvest it. I know we could have grown much quicker and have many more franchisees but we have kept the business growth small to fit in with the family. Also we wanted to be able to fully support each franchisee. I can’t think of any other job I’d rather be doing and I’m not the type to stay at home all day

How do you fit running the business around family life now?

As the children have got older it is easier to fit in running the business around family life, even though the business is growing. Trying to get the right balance was the hardest challenge. I was keen to ensure that I fit Musical Minis around my children and not the children around Musical Minis. By way of example it was important for me that I finish Musical Minis a week before the end of my children’s Nursery term at Christmas, in order that I would be able to go to their Christmas shows.

What is the biggest benefit for your family with you being self-employed?

There was not a day when I could not take the children to school and be there to collect them. I am sure they benefited from the fact that I felt entirely fulfilled through the combination of being a full time Mum and running my own business. I have in recent years been able to take a reasonable sum out of the business and my three teenagers are certainly making sure they benefit from this!

Next Monday 7th June, Karen will be sharing her top ten tips for starting a business as a mum. Why not sign up for updates to Business Plus Baby  (by email or RSS) to make sure you don't miss it?

Win a Home Business

Yes, you did read that right!

Following on from the post five tips for entering awards a couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd have a nose around for awards I could enter. As I've not actually launched my new business yet (but watch this space!) I was looking for awards I could enter next year. But it turns out that you can actually win a business at the BT Remote Worker Awards.

If you're not currenly working from home, you could win a franchise to run local magazine 'The Snippet' worth £10,000 and runners up will win business start up kits from Kleeneze and Phoenix trading. These are the prizes for the Arise Be Your Own Boss Award.

Fancy running a drama school for children? A £15,000 Helen O'Grady Drama Academy franchise is the prize for the Helen O'Grady Special Award. There are a couple of other wards that you could enter if you're already running a businesss (Parentpreneur Award, Home Business Award, maybe the Freelance Consultant Award). I'll definitely be getting my entry in next year!

It's a bit late for me now I've finally decided which business I'm going to run, but could this could be a great opportunity for you?

Photo: The-Lane-Team

Business Mums’ Blog Carnival Is Now Live

The Business Mums' Blog Carnival has been posted over at The Efficiency Coach blog. This month you can learn about social media phone applications, promoting a wedding business, how to fit a bra properly and more! Check it out and get to know other mums in business.

The next blog carnival will be hosted by www.ivyhouseinteriors.co.uk. Email posts to sarah AT ivyhouseinteriors.co.uk by 18 June and the carnival will be published on 22nd June.

‘Mumpreneur’: Love It Or Loathe It?

At first, I was happy to call myself a mumpreneur. After all, it is a combination of 'mum' and 'entrepreneur' and I'd be proud to call myself either. It meant I was stepping off the career treadmill and doing my own thing.

Then I discovered that other mums in business didn't like the word. When they think of a mumpreneur, many people have an image of a woman running a little hobby business to keep her busy while she's a stay-at-home-mum.

The reality for most mums in business is very different. Ask around and you hear stories of mums looking after children all day and then working into the small hours to keep their businesses going. Of having little alternative but to work for themselves because they can't afford childcare. Of refusing to miss out on their children's early years, yet still wanting (and often needing) to earn a living.

In her post What sort of mumpreneur are you? Antonia Chitty asks 'Do you see ‘mumpreneur’ as something that helps mums who own businesses, or something that is holding us back?'. Probably a bit of both, I think.

But what interests me is how come we have a label that is meant to bring us together, yet divides us.

In my pre-baby days I never had to prove I was equal to the men I worked with. True, some women are still grappling with a glass ceiling and fighting to get equal pay, but generally most women are now seen as being as competent and motivated as men.

That's until you have children. Bam, you're back in the land that time forgot. A land of stereotypes and assumptions. A world where the only way to prove your brain hasn't turned to mush is to work full-time and put your baby in a nursery five days a week. Which of course makes you a bad mother. The alternative is to risk becoming a nobody by being a stay-at-home-mum or to apply for a badly-paid part time job.

All stereotypes (except for the badly-paid part time job, sadly). Is this what has contaminated the word 'mumpreneur'?

There are no easy answers. Sometimes I feel like I'm the latest generation in an experiment that started over a century ago, where we still have a long way to go before we learn how to be truly equal.

I'd love to see people respecting the working choices made by mothers. (And the choice to not work.) To support and encourage, rather than to divide and judge.To ditch the stereotypes.  And for the challenges of being a working parent to be shared equally between women and men.

Then maybe we'd all be proud to call ourselves mumpreneurs?

What do you think? Leave me a comment below.

Photo: egor.gribanov

Review: Mum Ultrapreneur – Susan Odev and Mark Weeks

What’s a Mum Ultrapreneur? After reading this book, I know that she’s someone who wants an alternative to the corporate life. To embrace the strength, determination and creativity that mothers have always had and build a business with it.

The book takes an original approach by being made up of several sections that you can use in any way that works for you. The sections include interviews with mumpreneurs, an action plan to help you get your own business idea and Gemma’s story, a fictional account of a mum who starts her own business.

The acronym ‘SPARKLES’ is used to explain the qualities you need as a mumpreneur. ‘SPARKLES’ is the theme that weaves the different sections of the book together. (But I’d be giving too much away if I revealed what the letters stand for!)

The interviews with mumpreneurs are excellent. They show these Mum Ultrapreneurs are ordinary mums who went out there and just did it. That the difference between thinking about starting a business and being a successful business mum is really just about taking action.

Gemma’s story didn’t really click with me –  I’d have preferred a more straightforward, non-fiction explanation of the SPARKLES concept. Having said that, parts of her story were very similar to my own, especially having bursts of creativity when I was pregnant and totally shattered, then collapsing and achieving very little once the baby was born. If you like to learn through stories, you may really enjoy reading about Gemma.

This book is good for getting you moving and for boosting your self-belief. With many mums saying that they would start a business if only they knew how, it’s great that there’s a book out there that tackles the vital first step in the process.  However, Mum Ultrapreneur doesn’t cover the nuts and bolts of starting a business (and doesn’t claim to), so I’d suggest reading it alongside Antonia Chitty’s The Mumpreneur Guide or Anita Naik’s Kitchen Table Tycoon.

You can buy Mum Ultrapreneur from Amazon.